Sports photographer Jean Fruth has experience photographing baseball at all levels year-round, as well as games in the National Football League. The Sony Artisan is most-known for her passion for the grassroots game of baseball and her work telling the full story of the national pastime. She’s also a traveling photographer La Vida Baseball, a digital media company that tells the story of Latino baseball across the United States and Latin America. She uses her Sony Alpha mirrorless system to capture the action both on and off the field, and we caught up with her to learn more about her workflow process when photographing all things baseball.
Professional sports photographer Jean Fruth shares her workflow process for photographing baseball both on and off the field.
Before: Selecting Cameras & Lenses & Forming A Game Plan
“My work typically involves travel,” says Fruth. “So when I pack my photography gear, I make everything fit in a roller bag and a backpack that comes with me on the plane. I never check my gear. I will even check the plane size in advance to make sure my roller bag will fit in the overhead bin.”
If you’re familiar with Fruth’s sports photography, you’ll know that she covers much more than just the action of a game. When it comes to baseball she documents the entire culture of the sport, and the gear she packs reflects that.
“The Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM is my go-to lens for any game whether it's football or baseball. It's a lens I use during games when I need a wide angle. Maybe a play is happening right next to me or I have an opportunity to pass by a dug out and shoot that. Then I pack the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM for action, or even for a portrait of a player depending on my location. I have the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM which is essential for my action shots. Then I love the Sony 12-24mm f/4 G for my stadium shots and wide angle field shots – it’s such a beautiful lens. I have the Sony 24-105 f/4 G as my walkaround camera that’s great for capturing street or neighborhood baseball. Then I also have the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM and Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM, which are both specifically for portraits. If I’m doing a grassroots baseball clinic, I’ll do portraits of the kids as part of that. I carry both of the for portraits because depending on where I am, I might need different focal lengths. They’re both terrific and always come with me.”
“As for cameras, inside my bags I’ll pack one Sony α7R IV that’s really for portraits, which does end up being a part of my work sometimes. It’s also nice for landscapes and those stadium shots. Then I have two Sony α9s and one Sony α9 II, which will eventually be two α9 IIs. I use these for all of the action. I really like the voice tagging in the α9 II and use it on a regular basis. I can use it to ID a player or explain the scene. It’s a phenomenal camera and essential for what I do.”
With all of her gear cleaned, packed and prepped for the game, Fruth also prepares for shooting by creating a plan. Whether it’s a Major League game or Little League, she always makes sure she has a plan in place. Maybe there’s a specific player she knows she wants a portrait of, or an angle of the field she knows she wants to get. Having an idea of what she wants to capture beforehand guides where she will be and which gear she will have in her hands ready to fire.
“When I get to the ballpark, I take the time to think about the angles and the background. If a stadium is empty and I don't want to show the empty seats, I might take a higher position and shoot to home plate. Sometimes I have a list of shots I have to get, but I still have to be patient. Sometimes it means staying in a certain place and waiting for something to develop in front of you in order to capture a good one.”
During: Chasing The Light & Shooting Efficiently
Many ballparks and stadiums will have media rooms where photographers can store their gear and walk around with what they need. Regardless, during the game Fruth always has three camera bodies with her – the two α9s and the α9 II. When the game starts, she will have the 16-35mm f/2.8 on one α9, the 70-200mm f/2.8 on the other, and the 400mm f/2.8 on the α9 II.
“When I’m at the game and I’m shooting, I typically only use one card slot. If I’m shooting an event for La Vida Baseball and they need photos quickly, I’ll shoot one card slot JPEG for them and the other RAW for myself. When I was shooting during the Hall of Fame inductions there was a card runner who would come grab the card of JPEGs from me because they wanted to get them online fast.”
What exactly Fruth is photographing will determine how she shoots. If she’s photographing football, she doesn’t delete as she goes because everything happens so quickly. Sometimes the pace in baseball does allow for a little more time to take a look at her shots and delete any that she knows aren’t going to cut it. If she’s doing grassroots stuff with kids, she never deletes because there’s just so much going on and she doesn’t want to miss anything.
“While I might have some time during a baseball game to go through photos and delete those I don’t need,” explains Fruth, “I still try not to overshoot. You can shoot at a nice pace and you don’t need to walk away with thousands of images to get what you need. As I’ve gained more experience I’ve become much better at shooting more efficiently.”
One of the most important parts of her sports photography, especially when shooting grassroots stuff, is light. If she has the option and she’s working a certain number of games for a season, she’ll choose games specifically for the way the light will look in her photos.
“If I’m in a position to choose and there's a series going on, I’ll always choose any game around 4 or 5pm to get the beautiful light. If I’m shooting a tournament with games throughout the day, I’ll try to shoot the early morning game, nothing in the mid-afternoon and then I go back for those early evening games depending on the time of year. I'm a light chaser all the time, so whenever I can make the choice, that's what I'm doing.”
After: Importing & Processing
If what she’s shooting is an assignment for La Vida, she’ll immediately go back to her hotel to download them into Adobe Bridge. She does a quick retouch, batch converts them to Hi-Res JPEGs and sends them off to be used in their web stories, live daily show or social media.
“I already know what I’m looking for because as I’m shooting I’m mentally keeping track of what I’ve got. I have my assignment so I can go through to get those quick picks pretty easily. There have also been times where I’ve used Sony’s Imaging Edge app and transferred from my camera to my phone and sent them off during the game, which they’ve really appreciated. I also like that feature just for myself too, so I can post to social media as I’m going.”
“After I send those I go through the entire shoot and create a much wider edit for La Vida’s archives and my own. I have the images categorized by capture time and I caption them in Photo Mechanic with searchable keywords so I can go back and find certain photos without an issue. I’ll do a little retouch – with the Sony cameras you really don't need much for retouching. If your exposure and everything is right on, which it usually is, because you can see your live shooting, then you're really just picking the best, batch converting them to Hi-Res photos and sending them out.”
Hear more from Sony Artisan Jean Fruth and the art of baseball in this Alpha Universe Podcast.